How to Identify and Attract a Tree Swallow

Learn how to identify a male and female tree swallow. Find out about their nests, song, range map and what tree swallows eat.

tree swallows on backyard wind spinnerCourtesy Lisa Faith
A female and male tree swallow

Tree Swallow Facts

Scientific Name: Tachycineta bicolor
Family: Swallow
Length: 5-3/4 inches
Wingspan: 14-1/2 inches
Distinctive Markings: A male tree swallow is iridescent greenish-blue above and white below. Females may be duller.

How to Identify a Tree Swallow

14 Cynthiabrennan Bbxmar22, tree swallowCourtesy Cynthia Brennan

“I took this photo of a bird (above) at a local park. Can you tell me what it is?” Birds & Blooms reader Cynthia Brennan, Glens Falls, New York

Look for a violet-green swallow in the West.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: Only half the bird is visible here, but that’s enough. The short, wide, flat bill suggests that this is a member of the swallow family. It feeds on flying insects, opening its mouth wide and scooping them from the air in flight. The fact that this bird is looking out of a birdhouse provides another clue. In eastern North America, the only swallows that nest in birdhouses are purple martins and tree swallows. The snowy white throat contrasting with the steel-blue top of the head makes this one a perfect match with the tree swallow.

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Nest and Eggs

Donna Brownrigg
Nestlings in a tree cavity

The female builds nest in a cavity using grass, needles and feathers, and lays up to eight white eggs. Nest boxes designed for bluebirds also attract this swallow.

Learn more about swallows’ nests and nesting habits.

What Does a Tree Swallow Eat?

The hardiest swallow, it arrives early in spring and even winters over in some localities. When insects are unavailable, the tree swallow feeds mostly on bayberries; some wintering birds have also been seen picking seeds from pond ice. To attract them, grow native plants to attract bugs.

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Tree Swallow Song

tree swallowCourtesy Anne Duvall

Listen to the tree swallow’s song. Typically an early-morning singer, the song is a pleasant gurgling chatter when in flight.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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Range Map and Habitat

Look for these birds in open areas with scattered trees and water.

Tree Swallow Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Next, learn how to make a purple martin gourd house.

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.